Apr 20 2018
President Trump announced airstrikes in Syria in a televised address last Friday.
The airstrikes, carried out by American, British, and French forces, targeted sites associated with the chemical weapons stockpile of Syrian dictator Bashar al Assad.
Sophisticated attacks like this require coordination with our allies. They require planning, unity, and resolve.
According to the Constitution, they also require express authorization from Congress.
Yet for the past decade, presidents from both parties have ignored the Constitution in order to carry out unauthorized military strikes in Libya, Yemen, and other hotspots.
That dangerous trend continued on Friday.
President Trump consulted foreign powers before the attack, but he did not consult the American Congress.
Fortunately for the nation, the unauthorized strikes were carried out without casualties to civilians or American troops. But it would be a mistake to think this operation was a slam dunk. No act of war is risk-free.
And indeed, in the run-up to this attack, a Russian diplomat warned that Russia would “shoot down U.S. rockets and even the sources that launched the missiles.”
Imagine what could have happened if Russia had followed through on this ominous threat.
Russia could have attacked the American destroyers, submarines, and bombers used in this operation. American personnel could have died.
In an instant, our “methodically planned” attacks could have spiraled into a bigger conflict with the world’s second-largest military—all without input from Congress or the American people.
Victory in war requires sobriety and above all national unity, which is precisely why the Constitution established a collaborative procedure for going to war in absence of an imminent threat to the United States.
The Constitution empowers Congress to make decisions about whether or not to go to war. It empowers the president, as commander-in-chief, to lead the troops once war has been declared.
The Founding Fathers divided these responsibilities to ensure that the nation would be united in purpose when it went to war. They did not want a solitary figure to make those fateful decisions without consulting his fellow Americans.
Think of the Constitution’s war-making process like a game of baseball.
In America’s sport, the most successful pitchers work in perfect unison with a catcher, who sizes up the batter and determines his weaknesses. The catcher can see the entire field, while the pitcher’s focus is on the batter in front of him.
The catcher flashes hand signals to the pitcher telling him which pitches to throw and where to throw them. Sometimes the catcher will even advise the pitcher to walk a particularly threatening batter.
The Constitution established a similar relationship between all the players on Team USA.
When the president is facing down an opponent, he needs to get the signal from Congress before proceeding.
In his address last Friday, President Trump stated he is “prepared to sustain” airstrikes in Syria until chemical weapons attacks stop.
It is far from clear that Congress and the American people are willing to assent to a sustained military campaign of this kind.
While many of my colleagues have expressed support for the president’s unauthorized strikes, it is unclear how many are willing to go on record by voting for another dangerous and costly war the Middle East.
If these colleagues believe a war in Syria is in the best interests of the country, they are free to bring a specific Authorization for the Use of Military Force to the floor in Congress. While Senator Corker’s AUMF is a valiant effort to reassert Congress’s authority, the current language is too broad.
Similarly, if President Trump truly believes a war in Syria is in the best interests of the United States, he must convince the nation of that fact. And I applaud those who spoke out, encouraging the president to come to Congress first.
Securing authorization from Congress is the most important step he can take to rally Team USA for what surely will be a dangerous and costly endeavor.